Most comics look at stand-up comedy as a way to get into TV and movies. Marlon Wayans already was famous for being in TV shows such as “In Living Color” and starring in such movies as “White Chicks,” “A Haunted House” and “Scary Movie” before he got on stage.
Following the stand-up path of his brothers Keenan and Damon at age 39 scared him a bit, he says. Being the baby of 10 children, he worried they mined their life at home for all the available comedy material by the time he got around to it.
But starting a stand-up career also was intimidating because he already was famous. Bombing on stage could put everything else at risk.
“When you’re a movie star and you’re just starting to do stand-up, people are, like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’,” he said. “The reality is that it has made me better and made me much more complete. I’m just in the beginning. I’m having so much fun. It put a new spark to my career.”
Wayans and brother Shawn, who starred with him on The WB series “The Wayans Bros.,” perform at the Tampa Improv in Ybor City from Thursday through Sunday.
Wayans picked up comedy notes by watching and listening to the masters, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. But he also cribbed from Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Gleason and Louis C.K.
Getting up every night to tell jokes taught him the logic behind the humor, how to read an audience and how to find his own comedic voice while building a set’s worth of material.
“It teaches you to look at an audience and go, ‘Who is this audience and how do I play to them?’ ” he said. “You have to be respectful to the audience. Now I know when I’m going to go too far. I know the joke. I know where it’s at. I used to be kind of all over the place. Now I just know where it’s at.”
While still performing shows with his brothers, Wayans breaks out occasionally for his own projects, including the new WhatTheFunny.com, an online spot for urban comedy.
He also hosts the new TBS series “Funniest Wins,” which challenges stand-ups, sketch comics and viral video stars to cross over into each other’s genre. The funniest to master all the forms takes top prize.
“It’s teaching these guys how to be writers,” Wayans said. “I think the most important part of comedy is writing.”
Fans today expect their comedians to command all media, he said. It’s why he spends much of his day on Twitter (@marlonwayans) and Instagram (@marlonwayans) and Facebook tweeting, chatting and sharing selfies.
To Wayans, it’s just doing what Prince did. Everything.
“He is the ultimate artist,” he said. “He learned to play drums. He learned to write. He loves to dance. He loves to sing. He’s gotten better every year. That’s why everyone wants to go get a Prince album. He just keeps getting better and you don’t know what to expect from him. That’s what I want to do.”